Looking down the list of the names of the top five nations who make up the biggest international suppliers of conventional weapons, it reads pretty much just how you think it might. Over the past half-decade, the United States, Russia, Germany, France and the United Kingdom have shipped the most weapons overseas, with the U.S. and Russia making up over half of the total, exporting 30 percent and 23 percent of all arms, respectively.
Of that total, combat aircraft accounted for a full 48 percent of all U.S. weapons exports, and 27 percent of the total exported by all countries overall—a number that rises to 33 percent when related weapons and components are factored in according to a new report released by SIPRI, a Swedish think tank that focuses on arms control and global conflict.
The author of the report, Siemon T. Wezeman, warns that unlike other conventional weapons, combat aircraft “are among the weapons with the greatest potential to cause instability” due to their ability to strike fast, and from long distances. Because such planes are so expensive to both purchase and maintain, their existence in any one country’s arsenal “may shape the direction of defence policy and doctrine for many years,” he adds. The numbers of aircraft that the United States and Russia have exported over the past five years aren’t insignificant, with the U.S. having shipped 331 new F-16C, F/A-18E and F-15E aircraft, while Russia has sent 215 Su-25, Su-27, Su-30 and MiG-29 aircraft overseas.
As it stands today, eleven different countries manufacture combat aircraft: China, France, India, Japan, Russia, Sweden; while Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK together produce the Eurofighter Typhoon, of which only 24 aircraft have been sold to other countries since 2005. China has manufactured and shipped “about” 41 F-7 and JF-17 aircraft, and “while it has a substantial order for the JF-17 from Pakistan (reported as 50–150 units), there is no great prospect of large orders from other countries and production of the J-10 and other combat aircraft for national use will continue to outnumber exports,” Wezeman reports.